The Ford Five: Best David Cronenberg Films
In this new regular feature, I’m simply going to be counting down my top 5 of various topics, from directors’ works to genre favourites and award winners. To start the new feature, I thought I’d tackle the work of one of my all time favourite directors and maker of some of the greatest horror films of the seventies and eighties, David Cronenberg. The Canadian auteur credited with the rise of ‘body horror’, Cronenberg’s films often mixed elements of splatter, satire and sci-fi, and helmed some of the most intelligent films in the genre. Without further ado, let’s countdown my five favourite David Cronenberg films!
With such a long and varied back catalogue, it was almost impossible to cut the list down to 5, so some brilliant films had to miss the list. 1996’s Crash, his icy tale of various people turned on by road traffic accidents, was incredibly controversial on release, and might just be the most daring and audacious film of its decade. 2005’s A History of Violence, meanwhile, ended his streak of slightly disappointing, weirder films, and created a minor cult classic that featured an Oscar nominated turn from William Hurt and a fabulous leading performance from Viggo Mortensen. Of his more recent output, 2012’s Cosmopolis, while very divisive, featured a stunning performance from Robert Pattinson and some of the coolest, sleekest visuals he’s produced.
The Brood (1979)
Before The Brood, Cronenberg had made Shivers, Rabid and Scanners, three gruesome, intelligent but ultimately flawed gore films. With 1979’s The Brood, however, Cronenberg finally made a film that mixed intense acting (especially from British legend Oliver Reed), an original plot (a psychologist encourages patients to release their anger through bodily manifestations, leading to one woman creating an army of deformed killer dwarves) and fine gore (the climax features one of the most memorable shots in all of 70’s cinema). Though The Brood is quite slow and does get slightly repetitive towards the end, it’s still a creepy and violent film that first showed the potential of Cronenberg.
Dead Ringers (1988)
With 1988’s Dead Ringers, Cronenberg first hinted at the step away from horror films he took in the nineties. Though Dead Ringers is creepy and even occasionally gory, it’s often a profoundly dark and moving drama about twin surgeons (Jeremy Irons, in career best performances) who fall in love with the same woman. It featured unsettling gynaecological talk and typical body horror (drugged up twin Beverly creates some disturbing looking surgical tools), but ultimately, Dead Ringers was all about the emotions, the first time Cronenberg had attempted this, making it perhaps the strongest drama he ever produced.
The Dead Zone (1983)
David Cronenberg has always been known as being against the mainstream and sticking with his own unique vision, producing many strange, original pieces. When Cronenberg made The Dead Zone, a Stephen King adaptation, in 1983, many thought he would take apart the basic King narrative and give his own individual spin on it. Instead, surprisingly, Cronenberg plays it almost completely straight, and in the process, creates one of his best and most commercial films. Following the fantastic Christopher Walken as a schoolteacher who wakes from a coma to discover he can predict future events when touching a person, The Dead Zone at first appears to be a series of set pieces and nothing more, which to an extent is true. However, with Cronenberg’s unfussy direction, a terrific performance from Walken and a genuinely dark and unsettling finale, The Dead Zone is one of the best Stephen King adaptations around, and proof that Cronenberg can make a mainstream studio film and not compromise his vision.
Perhaps the quintessential film in his vast catalogue, Videodrome is a mind meltingly complex film about sleazy TV producer Max Renn (an excellent leading performance from James Woods) who gets corrupted by a satellite channel known only as ‘Videodrome’. About halfway through the film, Max’s life turns into a walking hallucination, with instructions from his TV set, a vagina-like hole opening in his stomach and a gun fusing to his hand. Ticking just about every box, Videodrome offers disgusting gore (a man’s body being ripped apart by slug like creatures), a complex and tough to follow plot and fine performances from Woods and Deborah Harry. The only reason Videodrome isn’t in the number one slot is that it’s so difficult to follow and often difficult to stomach that it isn’t the most enjoyable film he has ever made.
The Fly (1986)
The perfect blend of gruesome effects, beautifully underplayed acting and genuine heart and depth, The Fly might be one of Cronenberg’s most straightforward and commercial films, but that doesn’t stop it from being his all round most enjoyable and likeable film. The classic sci fi/horror tale of a nerdy scientist, played with a gawky charisma by Jeff Goldblum, who accidentally fuses his DNA with that of a fly, the film is a masterpiece of slow building tension in the first half leading to absolutely horrific body horror in the second. For a film made in 1986, the FX are jaw dropping; teeth falling out, limbs dropping, acid vomited up and dissolving a corpse. Strangely though, for all the gore and memorable money shots, it is the central romance between Goldblum and journalist Geena Davis that really hits you the hardest. As Goldblum falls apart and mutates, we still see that look of sadness in his eyes whenever he sees Davis; the sign that there is still a human under the unpleasant outer layer. It might not be quite as weird as some of the other films in his back catalogue, and possibly not as gruesome, but The Fly has the right combination of heart, gore and acting to make it one of the greatest remakes of all time, and ultimately the best David Cronenberg film to date.
Thanks for reading, and join me next week for another instalment of The Ford Five!
By Harry J. Ford
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